My Thai love affair began on a dark grey, drizzly winter's day back in 1998 in Taipei, Taiwan. My sister had just returned home from a dinner date, and came back exhilarated more by what she ate, than her date.
"It was a whole fish!" she squealed.
"A whole fish? With eyes, skin and tail? You ate that?"
I was shocked. Throughout our entire childhood in the Okanagan, I cannot ever remember eating a fish that wasn't frozen or deep-fried in beer batter. I'd always maintained that I disliked fish and I'd never thought, in a zillion years, that my sister would eat a fish with the skin, head and tail on it. My interest was piqued.
"We're going back this weekend, you have GOT to try it!"
We went back the next Friday after class. Then the next Friday and the next. In fact, over the next three years we'd return every Friday. Sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with a group of friends. We rotated between that first lemon-chili fish and five other most-loved dishes. The waitresses knew us. We had our usual table. We had our good-bye dinners there, and when we went back to visit Taiwan, it was the first place we ate - it was that good*.
So I was especially eager for today; a whole day of Thai cookery at school. I was especially eager because our Guest Chef was Chef Angus An, owner of Maenam Restaurant here in Vancouver.
Chef Angus is no stranger to us. He has generously given our class his time when he gave an in-depth demo on knife sharpening a few months back, (and we still loyally sharpen our knives exactly as he taught us). He has also generously opened his kitchen and let many of us students do work observations with his staff. Then today he came yet again to share his secrets of Thai cookery with us. Pretty damn fantastic for someone who is considered to be the league of Vancouver's next great chefs.
So Chef Angus is a man who possesses a lot of knowledge and an obvious love for what he does - but so have a lot of Chefs, what makes Chef Angus so different?
Well, he shares. He shares everything with us, right down to his recipes. Having a busy chef of his caliber come in and spend his morning instructing us is just plain generous. Plus he's so accessible, which makes him unlike any of the other chefs I've met. Chef Angus makes you feel like you're part of the club. A valuable part of the club.
He sets a fantastic example, always learning and always passing on his knowledge to the next generation. Helping each generation of this city's cooks be better than the last. Very admirable.
Preparing lots of limes
So how did a classically-trained French chef get into Thai cooking?
Well, after graduating at the top of his class in New York, Chef Angus went to Europe to extend his cooking experience. In true Anthony Bordain fashion, he followed a friend to work one day and to see what his restaurant was all about. His friend just happened to be working in the kitchen of Chef David Thompson, an Australian Chef running a restaurant called Nahm in London's Halkin Hotel. Chef Thompson is the first Chef to ever get a Michelin Star for Thai Cookery. Chef Angus was smitten with the cuisine and stayed on to learn, and lucky for us, he learned his craft well.
Ok, enough of singing the man's praises. Let's talk about his food.
He likes to do things authentically, none of this switching out Thai ingredients to suit western palates. I love him for it, because shortly before 12:30, the most amazing smell filled our school. A smell that made me reminisce about riding bicycles past huge Buddhas in Sukhothai, walking the old dirt streets of Chiang Mai and the hustle of the old Bangkok train station filled with saffron-robed monks. *sigh*
Spices for our Burmese curry paste
We made three dishes with Chef Angus, Burmese Style Pork Curry, Hot and Sour Pork Soup with Tamarind and a Prawn Salad that made every student in class swoon. I suspect a few more love affairs may have blossomed today!
We had a laugh over this fish sauce bottle, "Contains No Squid"
even though there is a huge squid pictured on the bottle.
Cilantro and Mint Salad with Grilled Prawns,
everyone's favorite, and deservedly so!
This dish was perfectly balanced - sweet, sour and salty
with a little kick of heat at the end.
Hot and Sour Pork Soup with Tamarind.
Absolutely authentic Thai soup. Swoon!
* For the record, I have never had Thai food in Thailand as good as Thai Town Cuisine in Taiwan!